Stage names exist for a variety of reasons. Some celebrities change their names to avoid confusion, either because their own name is similar to another that of celebrity’s or because it’s just difficult to pronounce. Some change it to hide their familial relations or their heritage. Some change their names to hide embarrassing, overly long or awkward-sounding names as well. No matter what the reason for the change, stage names intrigue us. As fans, knowing a celeb’s real name is like piercing through their armor just a little. This information makes us feel like we know the celebrity better. We can refer to them by their real names in conversations and when people ask, “who?” we respond with, “Oh, sorry, you would probably know them better by their stage name. My mistake.”
In essence, knowing a celebrity’s real name grants us access to a piece of them others don’t see. If we know the reasons behind the name change, we might even learn something intimate about the star; maybe even something about that celeb’s life before he/she became famous, which basically means that we instantly become best friends. Maybe for some, this exercise is meaningless. We don’t worry much about those people. We’re in the business of knowing everything about celebrities, and it all starts with names. We already know many of the big ones—Demi Moore, Michael Keaton, Michael Caine, Natalie Portman. All of these are stage names that we’ve uncovered. Let’s dig deeper. We’ve decided to take a look at current and former stars—some who are still with us and others who have passed away. So, why don’t we go ahead and learn something today? Let’s discover what celebrities have been walking around this whole time with a stage name and you didn’t even know it. Here are 15 Celebs Who Shockingly Don’t Use Their Real Names.
15 Stevie Wonder - Steveland Hardaway Judkins
When Stevie Wonder was born in Saginaw, Michigan, he was given the weirdest name around—Steveland Hardaway Judkins. Now, this name, which sounds like every Steve’s favorite theme park, didn’t stick long. First went the last name. After Steveland’s mother left his father, she changed Hardaway Judkins to Morris, a surname that he still uses on legal documents today. Next, during an audition at Motown for Barry Gordy, a producer, Clarence Paul, called him “Little Stevie Wonder,” and the name pretty much stuck around from that day on. Rumor has it that the city of Cleveland was named after Steveland, but that can’t be confirmed nor denied. No, it’s not true. Cleveland was named for Moses Cleaveland in the 1800’s. Steveland. Heh!
14 Bruno Mars - Peter Gene Hernández
This may be common knowledge for huge Bruno Mars fans, but that’s not his real name. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Bruno Mars used to be known as Peter Gene Hernandez. At the age of two, Bruno’s father started calling him “Bruno” because he looked like famed WWE wrestler, Bruno “The Living Legend” Sammartino, which is flat-out hilarious. Although he grew up in the music scene, it wasn’t until he decided to pursue a solo career in the industry as a teenager that he created the name “Bruno Mars.” Half in an effort to avoid being pigeonholed as just another faceless Latino artist with the name Hernandez and half because he like the sound of it, Mars was chosen. When asked about it, Bruno Mars said, “I felt like I didn’t have [any] pizzazz, and a lot of girls say I’m out of this world, so I was like I guess I’m from Mars.”
13 Lorde - Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor
You probably knew that Lorde wasn’t named just “Lorde.” Most of us have multiple names, so this wasn’t too hard to see through. But we still thought that her long and interesting original name, Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor, was worthy of discussion anyway. Born in New Zealand, Lorde chose the stage name Lorde because of love of royals and aristocracy, not coincidentally the same reason that her first massive single, “Royals,” was named as it was. Since the regular old word, Lord, felt too masculine, Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor threw an “e” on the end. Gripping stuff.
12 Anna Nicole Smith - Vickie Lynn Hogan
Born in Houston, Texas as Vickie Lynn Hogan, Anna Nicole Smith first changed her name shortly after her mother remarried. Thus, Vickie Lynn Hogan became “Nikki Hart.” As a teenager, Nikki Hart met a restaurant cook named Billy Wayne Smith. When the two married in 1985, Nikki Hart became Nikki Smith. Still with us? There’s more. After several years of marriage in 1992, Nikki Smith had the chance to appear on the cover of Playboy magazine. For this, she went back to her original first name paired with her new last name. She was now “Vickie Smith.” After that, Smith got the chance to take over Claudia Schiffer’s contract with Guess jeans. For this big break, she changed her name to Anna Nicole Smith. Thankfully, she stuck with that one.
11 Elvis Costello - Declan Patrick McManus
After taking part in a few different bands during his youth, Elvis Costello, born Declan Patrick McManus, adopted a stage name “D.P. Costello.” The reasons for this were straightforward. First, his initials are D.P. Second, his father used to perform under the stage name “Day Costello,” so he adopted the second name as a tribute to his father. When he signed to an independent label, Stiff Records, the manager there, Jake Riviera, suggested that he change his name. The suggestion was to combine Elvis Presley’s name with D.P. Costello. If we didn’t know better, we would say that this was the stupidest suggestion ever. But it worked, though.
10 Elle Macpherson - Elenor Gow
That's right, Elle Macpherson is not her real name. Born in Killara, New South Wales as Elenor Gow, supermodel Elle Macpherson had her name changed when her mother remarried. The new surname, Macpherson, sounded a lot less like “cow” than the last name, so she was quite happy about that. Although we don’t have proof that the close proximity of Gow to the word cow had any influence on her choosing to change her last name, we can guarantee that Macpherson would not have become the celebrity she did with the original name.
9 Gene Simmons - Chaim Witz
Gene Simmons, the legendary member of KISS, was born in Haifa, Israel as Chaim Witz. When Simmons came to the United States, he changed his name to “Eugene Klein,” taking his mother’s maiden name. His mother was named Flora Klein. Interestingly, the Hungarian version of the name Klein is “Kis.” This also has absolutely nothing to do with the band name being KISS. The roots of the name choice “Simmons” is a bit more difficult to track. Sometime in his early 20’s, Gene Simmons just became Gene Simmons. It was likely an attempt to sound more American, but we can’t say for sure.
8 Olivia Wilde - Olivia Jane Cockburn
If you were to ask Olivia Wilde about her last name, she would tell you that she took on the stage name of Wilde in high school. It was, as she claims, chosen because of Oscar Wilde and was a neat little way to honor all of the writers in her family. This is probably another way of saying that she didn’t think the last name “Cockburn” was so awesome. It is true that she comes from a family of writers and it is true that her name is spelled the same as Oscar Wilde. But, it is also very true that Cockburn is not awesome. As a Hollywood actress, Cockburn is one of the least appealing last names we can think of...ever!
7 Shania Twain - Eileen Regina Edwards
When Shania Twain was born in Windsor, Ontario, the Canadian was named Eileen Regina Edwards. She then married Jerry Twain and became “Eileen Twain.” Now, the name “Shania” is interesting. Yes, it sounds country, so there’s that. But there’s long been a story attached to the name; a story that is pretty much a pile of crap. Twain’s husband is Ojibwa and, ever since the earliest days of her career, the word Shania was said to mean “on my way” in Ojibwa. This story has persisted since she first hit the scene, but there is no Ojibwa word for “on my way.” Interestingly, there is no word that even sounds similar to Shania. This was just a cool story that people liked so they kept repeating. The truth is, Shania just sounds so country, so she stuck with it.
6 Joan Crawford - Lucille Le Sueur
The great Joan Crawford was once known as Lucille Le Sueur. When she started in film, she took bit parts and was even the body double for Norma Shearer. Her talents were noticed, however, and MGM studios wanted to make her into one of their big players. Unfortunately, most of the bigwigs hated her name. One claim was that it sounded far too much like “sewer” and that it sounded too fake. To find a new name, they ran a special called “Name the Star” in Movie Weekly. Readers wrote in their favorite star name for her. The winning name was “Joan Arden,” but that name was taken by another actress. They then went with Joan Crawford, which Joan Crawford hated but eventually agreed to take on. She should be grateful that this wasn’t done in the age of the internet. If that competition was run these days, Joan Crawford could have been “Joany McJoanface.”
5 Mickey Rooney - Joe Yule Jr.
The story of Mickey Rooney’s name is really interesting. Born as Joe Yule Jr., Rooney’s mother and father had him acting from a very young age (17 months old in some accounts). When Rooney was five, his mother moved them to Hollywood to have him pursue a career in the motion pictures industry. His first film role came when he was six years old. In 1927, when he was seven, Rooney’s mother had him apply for a series of films, playing the character Mickey McGuire. In the end, Rooney would star in 78 of these films over nine years. Keep in mind that this series was based on the comic strip, Toonerville Trolley. In a strange turn of events, the film series’ director, Larry Darmour, got into copyright troubles with the comic strip’s creator. To help her son’s film career and help the director avoid paying royalties, Rooney’s mother had her son’s name changed from Joe Yule Jr. to Mickey Maguire. Soon after, the courts stepped in and stated that the name was not allowed. They then tried to change it to “Mickey Looney,” but this was denied as well to avoid copyright issues with the Looney Tunes. In the end, they settled on Mickey Rooney.
4 Judy Garland - Frances Ethel Gumm
Not only was the Wizard of Oz star named Frances Ethel Gumm before she was Judy Garland, but she was kind of famous with that name as well. Both Garland’s parents were vaudevillians, and Judy and her sisters were performing on stage from an extremely young age. The three sisters–the Gumm Sisters–started onstage but soon moved to motion pictures. The family moved to California, and they did several early films as the Gumm Sisters, singing and dancing on screen. And they continued to tour the vaudeville scene as well. There’s a story that claims the sisters first discovered they needed to change their name when they were embarrassingly announced as “the Glum Sisters” at the Oriental Theater in Chicago. How the name Garland truly came about will probably never be known at this point. Plenty of people have taken credit for it, and the reasons how it came about have changed many times throughout the years. Actor George Jessel has, on a number of different occasions, taken credit for renaming them the Garland Sisters, but he can’t seem to get his stories straight. Some say it was because they were as pretty as Garland, while others say it was simply changed to a basic and straightforward name. Some say it was based on Lily Garland in the film Twentieth Century. Some say it’s inspired by drama critic Robert Garland. You see? No one knows for sure.
3 Harry Houdini - Erik Weisz
Originally, Harry Houdini was Erik Weisz of Budapest, a boy born to Jewish family in 1874. When the family moved to the United States in 1878, the family changed their name to the German version, and Erik Weisz became “Erich Weiss.” Weiss started performing as a 9-year-old trapeze artist. During this period in his life, he was called, “Ehrich, the Prince of the Air.” When he turned to magic, Weiss created a stage name that was based on two of his idols in the world of magic—Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin and Harry Kellar. He added an “I” to the end of Houdin because he mistakenly believed that this meant “like.” While aspiring magicians may find this information rather elementary, us casuals have been thinking Harry Houdini was his birth name. How interesting it is that it’s nothing more than a mashup.
2 John Wayne - Marion Robert Morrison
John Wayne didn’t always have the uber-masculine double first name he would become famous with. He was born Marion Robert Morrison. Soon after, his parents decided that they wanted to use the name “Robert” on a different child, so they switched little Marion’s middle name from Robert to Mitchell. Now, he was Marion Mitchell Morrison. As a child, Marion was seen walking around town all the time with his dog, a massive Airedale Terrier named Duke. This prompted a local fireman to name Marion “Little Duke.” Apparently, Marion liked this nickname better than Marion and decided to go by it instead, an easy choice when you crush rocks in your bare hands just because you can. After a few uncredited roles, the Duke’s first credited role went to “Duke Morrison” in Words and Music (1929). Duke then suggested to the studios that he’d change his name to Anthony Wayne after “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a general in the Revolutionary War. Allegedly, the studios thought this sounded “too Italian,” so they went with John Wayne instead to make him a true American.
1 Cary Grant – Archibald Alexander Leach
Born Archibald Alexander Leach, Cary Grant had a strange childhood, to say the least. As a young boy in the northern Bristol suburb of Horfield, Grant’s father was an alcoholic and his mother suffered from depression. When Grant was nine years old, his father placed his mother in a mental institution and told Grant that she had simply left the family. It wasn’t until he was 31 that Grant learned the truth and had his mother taken out of the institution. When Grant got into acting in his mid to late ‘20s, he did a screen test for Paramount Pictures, specifically for Jesse L. Lasky and B. P. Schulberg, co-founder of the studio and general manager of the studio, respectively. Grant then signed a five-year contract with the promise that he would change his super English name to something more American...like Gary Cooper. Cary Grant it was. We’re pretty confident that Grant was eager to leave his British life behind him.
Sources: Wikipedia; IMDB; THR; Bio.com